I first read this book in January 2010 and I remembered how amused I was by it. It was light, entertaining and mostly heart-warming. Today, I revisited it. It was one of those times where I just took one look at the book (on my shelf) and decided to read it, just once more.
The book centres around Totto-chan, a pure-hearted but naughty girl who was lucky to be expelled from her first school and then transferred to another rather unusual school founded by an extraordinary and an equally unusual man. This man – Sosaku Kobayashi – is a firm believer in freedom of expression and activity. What’s unique about the school, you ask? Well for one, their classrooms are made out of old railroad cars!
This book will tell you about Totto-chan’s childhood and about an ideal school in Tokyo during World War II that combined learning with fun, freedom and love. The following is one of my most favourite chapters from the book, not only because it is funny, but it also reminds me of how pure and free a child can be especially when it comes to love!
Chapter: His Bride
Totto-chan was very sad.
She was in third grade now and she liked Tai-chan a lot. He was clever and good at physics. He studied English and it was he who taught her the English word for fox.
“Totto-chan,” he had said, “do you know what the English word forkitsune is? It’s ‘fox’.”
Totto-chan had luxuriated in the sound of that word all day long. After that, the first thing she always did when she got to the classroom-in-the-train was to sharpen all the pencils in Tai-chan’s pencil box as beautifully as she could with her penknife. She didn’t bother about her own, which she just hacked at with her teeth.
In spite of all that, Tai-chan had spoken roughly to her. It happened during lunch break. Totto-chan was sauntering along behind the Assembly Hall in the region of that notorious cesspool.
Tai-chan’s voice sounded cross, and she stopped, startled. Pausing for breath, Tai-chan said, “When I grow up, I’m not going to marry you, no matter how much you ask me to.” So saying, he walked off, his eyes on the ground.
Totto-chan stood dazed, watching until he and his large head disappeared from the view. That head full of brains that she admired so much. That head that looked so much bigger than his body the children used to call him “The Improper Fraction.”
Totto-chan put her hands in her pockets and thought. She could not remember doing anything to annoy him. In desperation she talked it over with her classmate Miyo-chan. After listening to Totto-chan, Miyo-chan said, maturely, “Why, of course! It’s because you threw Tai-chan out of the ring today at sumo wrestling. It’s not surprising he flew out of the ring the way he did because his head’s so heavy. But he’s still bound to be mad at you.”
Totto-chan regretted it with all her heart. Yes, that was it. What on earth made her beat the boy she liked so much she sharpened his pencils every day? But it was too late. She could never be his bride now.
“I’m going to go on sharpening his pencils all the same,” Totto-chan decided. “After all, I love him.”